National Post

High-wire matriarch performer since age 3

Travelled world with Flying Wallendas

- MATT SCHUDEL

Carla Wallenda, the matriarch of the daredevil Wallenda family of high-wire walkers, who continued to perform past the age of 80, died March 6 in Sarasota, Fla. She was 85.

She had complicati­ons from chronic obstructiv­e pulmonary disease and diabetes, said her son Rick Wallenda.

Wallenda was the last surviving child of Karl Wallenda, who brought the family and its tradition of death-defying acts to the United States from Germany in 1928.

The family had been acrobatic performers in Europe for generation­s. Wallenda learned to walk on a tightrope at the same time she learned to walk. She first performed in public at age 3 and appeared for many years with her family’s troupe in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

“When I came down off stage, there were all these people standing and applauding and throwing money on stage,” she told Florida Today in 2003. “My dad said, ‘Never mind the money — it’s the applause that’s important.’ ”

She grew up with the circus, travelling across North America and around the globe with “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Cousins and in-laws with different last names all performed as “the Wallendas,” who were billed various times as the “The Great Wallendas,” “The Flying Wallendas” and “The World Famous Wallendas.”

From childhood, Wallenda practised eight hours a day, mastering a variety of risky aerial routines, along with headstands and splits. Her grandmothe­r taught her that whenever her foot was not touching the ground or a wire cable, it should be elegantly pointed.

Another family tradition was that all acts should be performed without the use of a safety net. The Wallendas, who carried long stabilizin­g poles for balance, believed a net would lead to sloppiness and complacenc­y — and would diminish the suspense of the audience.

Carla Ella Wallenda was born Feb. 13, 1936, in Sarasota. Her father died in 1978 after falling from a cable suspended between two buildings in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

That night, Wallenda and other members of her family went ahead with a scheduled performanc­e.

 ?? WALT DISNEY TELEVISION VIA GETTY IMAGES ?? Carla Wallenda performs on the high wire in 1964 with Leon Fort and husband Richard Guzman, centre.
WALT DISNEY TELEVISION VIA GETTY IMAGES Carla Wallenda performs on the high wire in 1964 with Leon Fort and husband Richard Guzman, centre.
 ??  ?? Carla Wallenda
Carla Wallenda

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